In 2013, as a new college student, I started exploring genealogy. I learned to use the research skills that I developed from college history class to explore primary sources documents on my own. I reached out to extended family members, made new email contacts, and asked questions. I looked at courthouse records, newspaper clippings, and church records to not only determine where my ancestors are buried, but who their immediate family members are. I decided that I would make a genealogy book for my dad’s Christmas present, and I included him in the process. I loved when I could convince my Daddy to spend his Saturdays walking around cemeteries, locating relatives.

It is this process of researching and investigating that led me to the discovery of my 5 times great-grandmother, Hannah Parker. Hannah was born around 1735. During the late eighteenth century, she left Northern Ireland for America with her husband and children. They eventually settled in what is present-day Grayson County, Virginia. When my 5 times great-grandfather, John, passed away, Hannah moved with her son and her daughter-in-law to Deep Creek in Yadkin County, North Carolina. Hannah died in 1806 and is buried at Deep Creek Friends Meeting.

My father and I walked row by row, looking at heading stones dating back centuries. Then, just like that, we found her. The stone reads, “H.A. Parker.”

Obviously, Hannah Parker lived centuries before I was born, so I never knew her. Yet, suddenly I felt so connected to her because I realized that if she had not left her home and crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a ship, I would not be here today.

Finding my long-lost grandmother. That’s my humanities moment. Knowing who she was made me want to know more about the circumstances under which she lived, the time of the American Revolution, colonial-era beliefs about women in society and the church, the layout of the surrounding counties, and the people she may have encountered. I began asking hard questions and contextualizing the time in which she lived.

There are gaps in historical documentation, and I am aware that I will never learn everything about Hannah Parker. Even so, it is this desire to learn more about the time in which she lived that led me to my Master’s thesis work on women healers in colonial America. That project then led to the dissertation work on intercultural medical practice in the early American south that I do in my PhD program today.

A lot of people and different experiences influenced the path that led me to become a historian. Yet, this humanities moment of finding Hannah’s grave is different from the rest because for the first time, I realized the fruits of my labor. It took 7 months to finish that genealogy book for my father’s Christmas present. Because of this experience, when I now encounter names in census records, wills, and church records, I see them not as names and dates but as people. I have become invested in revealing the silences of their stories. Such instances make one very aware of one’s place in the world and the importance of uncovering the truth about what happened in the past, revealing people’s struggles, failures, and successes, and even understanding how people and events are influenced centuries later. We are all more connected to the past than we realize.

– Jewel Parker (Ph.D. Candidate, History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro)